Resolving Complex Matters
Whether leading an internal corporate investigation or defending a client in court, Mark Schnapp focuses on finding solutions in complex criminal matters. “I enjoy working on cases with a lot of moving parts.” says Schnapp, a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Miami office and co-chair of the firm’s White Collar Criminal Practice. Through the years, Schnapp has helped clients navigate parallel civil and criminal investigations that involve federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). His practice also includes conducting fraud, tax, money laundering and other criminal investigations.
“Mark worked with us in a very complex situation several years ago,” says Mark Chandler, general counsel, Cisco Systems in San Jose, CA. “Several internal and external people had conspired to defraud our company and customers. There were a lot of people pointing fingers in different directions, and Mark was adept at focusing on the key factors, developing our strategy and reaching an appropriate outcome. He also has a really generous spirit and is a good human being. It’s a pleasure to work with Mark.”
Schnapp has 30 years of litigation experience, including seven years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, where he was Chief of the Criminal Division. He has also handled more than 70 jury and non-jury trials.
One of his colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office was Roberto “Bob” Martinez, now a partner at Colson Hicks Eidson in Coral Gables. “Mark was a go-to prosecutor, someone you could trust with power and authority,” Martinez says. “He knows how to formulate a game plan and is strategic in his thinking. He’s also an extremely loyal friend who is always ready to help if you need something.”
A Hard Worker
Growing up in New York with twin brothers, Schnapp developed a strong work ethic at a young age, and became the first person in his family to go to college. “My father was a flight instructor in World War II era aircraft, and I became interested in aeronautics at an early age,” he says. Deciding to become an engineer, Schnapp served as president of the Undergraduate Engineering Council at New York University before earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1972.
“At age 19, I became an advocate for the students at university faculty meetings,” he recalls. “That experience made me think about law as a more exciting choice of careers.” Deciding to switch gears, Schnapp enrolled at Hofstra University School of Law, earning his juris doctor in 1976. He began his career at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a major New York corporate law firm, and then decided to become a prosecutor and joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami in 1982.
“My friends thought I was crazy to come down here, but I knew I’d made the right choice,” he says. “There were drug, fraud and money laundering cases and everything in between,” he says. “As a relatively young lawyer, it was a great experience for me. South Florida has an amazing criminal bar, in terms of both prosecutors and defense attorneys, so I had many exceptional learning opportunities.”
While at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Schnapp was part of the prosecution team for Operation Swordfish, in which more than 70 individuals were either indicted or convicted on money-laundering or drug trafficking charges. Schnapp’s work on the investigation of Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega earned him a Santeria curse discovered when the U.S. army captured the former general who was later convicted on drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering charges.
One of Schnapp’s last cases as a prosecutor involved Colombian coffee magnate Alberto Duque, who was tried and convicted in a case involving $150 million in fraudulent bills of lading. “Years later, the case was made into a Spanish-language soap opera shown in Colombia,” says Schnapp. “You never know what will come out of a case.”
Moving to the Defense
In 1989, a mutual friend introduced Schnapp to Mel Greenberg, the late co-founder of Greenberg Traurig. “Since I had both civil and criminal experience, it seemed like a good fit in terms of starting a white-collar practice,” Schnapp says. “Originally, there were just two of us in the group, which has grown steadily through the years.”
Since joining the firm, Schnapp has built a corporate client list that includes Lennar, PaineWebber, Smith Barney and Parsons Brinkerhoff, as well as prominent individuals. In the early 1990s, Schnapp was co-counsel with Roy Black in the defense of William Kennedy Smith in a highly publicized sexual battery trial that resulted in an acquittal.
After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Schnapp helped Lennar resolve issues related to its badly damaged residential communities. “We brought in a national expert on wind damage, and I drew on my own understanding of science in developing our approach,” he says. “We were able to show that the communities were built to compliance with the codes, and help the State Attorney’s Office understand the impact of a category 5 hurricane.”
Reflecting on those matters, Lennar CEO Stuart Miller says, “Mark did a very good job in dealing with the issues we were confronting and helping us navigate those uncharted waters. Since then I have stayed in touch, and we have worked with Mark on additional matters . He is a careful attorney with a low-profile approach who gives good advice.”
Today, Schnapp’s clients include healthcare companies, multinationals and financial institutions. His cases run the gamut from violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to complex environmental issues. “Engineering school teaches you how to solve problems and finish projects,” Schnapp says. “In law, as in engineering, you decide where you want to go, and work backwards from there.”
In his practice, Schnapp has defended a national engineering firm being investigated for alleged Clean Water Act violations, an investment banking firm under scrutiny for securitization of sub-prime loans, and a national distributor of diabetes supplies that was the subject of a Medicare fraud investigation.
Another aspect of his practice is advising on the handling of internal investigations. “I’ve been called to the scene after investigators knock on the door with a search warrant,” Schnapp says. “Sometimes I’m trying to get information while the agents are interviewing people on site. But, I’m also seeing more companies launch their internal investigations as soon as they become aware of a possible problem. These matters need to be handled very carefully to avoid the pitfalls.”
A Long-time Mentor
When Schnapp was in his 40s, he decided to learn how to play the trumpet and took lessons with Gil Johnson, a professor at the University of Miami School of Music and a former principal trumpet for the Philadelphia Orchestra. “Learning to play was important to me, so I would take the trumpet on my trips and practice every chance I had,” he says. “I believe if you have an opportunity to learn something, you should go for it and try to be the best you can.”
In keeping with that philosophy, Schnapp enjoys mentoring law students and young lawyers. “I’ve done that throughout my career,” he says. “I get a real sense of accomplishment from helping others, and plan to continue that commitment in the future.”
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